Album Review: Under the Pier’s Puff Pieces

by S. Winters

I’m waiting for you to liberate my fucking mind.

Baltimore, Maryland is an epicenter for excellent mathcore and grindcore bands. Among others, techgrind pulverizers The Heads Are Zeros (along with their adjacent project The Wind in the Trees) and The Number Twelve Looks Like You congregants NoiSays (along with their adjacent projects Codex Orzhova and Wormhole) distinguish themselves as paving new paths in modern math-influenced music. It is Baltimore where we find chaotic mathcore four-piece Under the Pier, whose first recording, a self-titled EP, released last year. That EP prompted many in the mathcore community to keep Under the Pier on their radar. In fact, the above lyric, taken from “Four Sided Triangle”, reflected the mindset of those fans. Now, the band is unleashing their first full-length album, and with it, they’re liberating our fucking minds. Puff Pieces is a 22-minute slab of ripping vocals, chunky string work, and the lack of 4/4 time signature usage lauded by mathcore fans. Under the Pier no doubt have a bright future ahead of them—but for now, let’s dig into this debut LP.

Under the Pier – Puff Pieces (Dark Trail Records, 2020)

Under the Pier wear their musical influences on their sleeves on Puff Pieces. Among others, Psyopus and The Dillinger Escape Plan are the most prominent comparisons to be made. Jesse Witt, the band’s vocalist, uses a dual attack of throat-scraping highs and rocky lows, a technique more often found in deathcore. There are even a few timely Ion Dissonanceesque spoken word sections. Daniel Howard’s distinct bass work follows Dylan Hall’s unhinged guitar riffs, aiding them by providing a strong low-end backbone. Sometimes, the guitars drop out or pan from left to right, but the bass stays firmly in place, fully audible at all times. Drummer David Amato hits his kit hard, but with precision, and his play style is straightforward. Instrumentally, Puff Pieces is violent but controlled, and the band members have enviable musical chemistry.

The lyrics of Puff Pieces are as sporadic as the music itself. Jesse does not craft a grand narrative; instead, he opts to touch on a variety of topics on each track. Self-hate, religion, and general disgust make appearances, as well as the degradation of one’s mental health. Some tracks are more focused; “Idol/Idle”, for example, is written in visceral anger toward a father who “tore this family apart”. In fact, some of Jesse’s most emotionally charged singing can be found in that song. Tracks like “Read’em and Weep Kids” and “Wagon Wheel on Repeat Until You Kill Yourself” lash out at… someone, or a group of someones. There is rarely an indication of at whom these outbursts are targeted, but there is no doubt Jesse is enraged. Whomever the lyrics for Puff Pieces are written toward, whether real or not, would not want to cross Jesse’s path.

As stated above, Puff Pieces is quintessential mathcore in the vein of Psyopus and The Dillinger Escape Plan. It must be said that writing a cohesive musical work is especially difficult in their unpredictable genre, and considering their youth, Under the Pier cannot be critiqued too harshly for not yet having mastered this art. Puff Pieces features memorable riffs and start-stop breakdowns galore (see “Read’em and Weep Kids” and “By Attrition” for notable examples of the latter), but it lacks continuity as an album. Thankfully, the record’s brevity allows a listener to let wave after wave of auditory assault wash over them without losing interest. Puff Pieces’ individual songs, on the other hand, demonstrate strong and engaging songwriting. Most tracks contain well-executed and original ideas—ideas which stand out to listeners. Under the Pier have left themselves plenty of room for improvement, and Puff Pieces indicates that they intend to continue honing their craft.

Puff Pieces, the debut full-length album from Baltimore mathematicians Under the Pier, is abrasive and psychotic in all the right ways. Heavily influenced by their forefathers in the mathcore scene, Under the Pier have bright ideas and technical ability, and this LP showcases them at their most ferocious. Despite the album’s structural shortcomings, it’s an album any chaotic metalcore fan should get in their ears. We’ll be keeping our eye on Under the Pier for future releases—this album goes hard.

Photography by Shane Gardner on 09/15/19

Dark Trail Records (the label of illustrious promoters Mathcore Index) will be releasing the album digitally and on CD on May 1st, 2020. Preorder Puff Pieces and listen to a few advance tracks on Bandcamp.